Historic Boston Incorporated 1999 Preservation Revolving Fund Casebook : Property Entries Online
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Adams House Annex/Bijou Theater

Central Business District

• Earliest building in Washington Street Theater District

• Fine Romanesque Revival architecture, with elegant stone fašade and handsome arched windows

• Once housed the first theater in B. F. Keith's renowned vaudeville empire

• Surrounded by intensive development at Millennium Place, the Opera House, and Lafayette Place

adamshouse.jpg (78197 bytes)

Name: Adams House Annex/Bijou Theater Bldg SqFt: 19,957 Lot SqFt: 9,515
Address: 543-547 Washington Street Ward: 3 Parcel: 4831
Neighborhood: Central Business District Zoning: Midtown Cultural District
Year Built: 1858-1860 Use: First floor commercial / upper floors vacant
Style: Romanesque Revival Condition: Fair
Architect(s): Jonathan Preston and William R. Emerson (fašade) Owner:
Henry H. Levin Trust
99 Chauncy Street, Box 459
Boston, MA 02111
Historic Certification: Washington Street Theater District National Register Historic District
FY99 Building Assessment: $285,500
FY02 Building Assessment: $234,800
FY99 Tax: $40,114
FY02 Tax: $21,947
FY99 Land Assessment: $797,500
FY02 Land Assessment: $488,800
Tax Status: Current

Preservation Strategy:

HBI should explore the possibility of carrying out a feasibility study with the owners of this building aimed at studying ways fill the upper floors with people, activity, life, and economic productivity. Given how long the same family has owned the building, it would appear that the rehabilitation costs could exceed the family's basis, thus making it eligible for the incentives the Federal Historic Preservation Investment Tax Credits offers.

Significance:

The Adams House Annex, with its stark but elegant stone fašade and handsome arched windows, is one of the oldest commercial buildings in the Theater District. The name of the building derives from its use in the 1860s as an annex to the former Adams House Hotel, yet its real significance comes from its association with Boston’s lively entertainment industry. At one time, the building held a 900-seat auditorium on the second floor, where B. F. Keith, America’s legendary vaudeville impresario, opened the Bijou Theater in 1885, the first in his empire of more than 400 vaudeville houses across the nation. In 1908, Keith converted the theater into the Bijou Dream, one of Boston’s first cinemas. In 1992, the owners re-boarded the windows and re-constructed the central entrance.

Preservation Challenges:

The upper floors of the Adams House Annex have been vacant for decades and typify the under-utilization of upper floors of many historic commercial buildings in the Central Business District. There are common problems with these buildings. Small footprints make it economically questionable to 1) take away ground floor retail space for an office entry, 2) install an elevator, 3) construct a second means of egress. Furthermore, the upper floors of this building are about half the size of the first floor. On the other hand, the Adams House Annex occupies a commanding site on Washington Street at the intersection with Avenue de Lafayette. Its stone fašade is a defining element of this streetscape. In 1993, the Boston Landmarks Commission accepted a petition to designate this a Landmark, but it has not acted upon it. For many years, the owners, a multi-generational family, have held this and several other historic buildings in the Central Business District for speculative purposes. Although the owners' property manager attended the Boston Preservation Alliance's 1996 Theater District Charrette, their family does not have a prominent history in undertaking challenging preservation development projects.

Neighborhood Context:

The Adams House Annex is adjacent to Millennium Place, a major new office/retail/hotel/cinema complex. The Millennium Project is committed to stabilizing the exterior of the adjacent Paramount Theater, which abuts the Adams House Annex to the south, and to restoring the Paramount's art deco fašade. Plans to rehabilitate the Opera House, which abuts the Adams House Annex to the north, are also closer to fruition, with the permitting process underway. Across Washington Street, Lafayette Place recently reopened as office space for financial service firms. Washington Street also is the heart of the downtown retail district, with three major department stores within three blocks of the Adams House Annex. Nearly all street-level commercial space is occupied on Washington Street, although many commercial buildings have vacant or underused upper floors.

Other Sources of Information:

Washington Street Theater District National Register Historic District nomination form

Entry Completed: 06/23/1999

Summer 2002 Update:

The building continues to be underutilized despite the redevelopment occurring all around it. Although the BLC has yet to act upon the petition to designate this building a Landmark, it may soon do so in response to the same family's irresponsible stewardship of the nearby Modern Theater. The owner would like a single tenant to occupy the entire ground floor retail space and has given up on leasing the upper floors due to their small size.

Update Entry Completed: 08/07/2002

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